Play that funky music!
On paper, Sound Shapes isn’t really an interesting prospect. A side-scrolling platformer with a strong focus on striking visuals and ambient music is a premise often practiced by budding indie developers (see Braid, Bastion and Limbo for three classic examples of this) so you’d be forgiven for writing off this game as nothing special. However, it’s not until you delve deeper into the game that you discover the painstaking amount of love that has been put into Sound Shapes, that it truly becomes something all of its own. To put it shortly, Sound Shapes is one of the best games on PSN and a true celebration of indie gaming.
To elaborate on Sound Shapes’ basic premise, you must make your way through several platforming stages. Along the way, collectible notes are scattered around that when picked up, contribute to the sound of that stage. This can be anything from a piano key to a drum beat, or something more extravagant like a guitar chord or synth notes. In a similar fashion to Rez, as you progress through a stage, the background music will evolve; starting with small ambient chimes and often ending with an epic score to see you out of the stage.
In a similar fashion to Rez, as you progress through a stage, the background music will evolve; starting with small ambient chimes and often ending with an epic score to see you out of the stage.
Sound Shapes is a platformer that feels alive; it lives and breathes. The more you play it, you’ll soon become entranced by its simple, yet genius gameplay system. Every object in a level contributes to how it will sound, with even hazardous red objects laying down the beats. On top of this, you’ll have to keep an ear out for the rhythm to avoid some obstacles.
The game has five albums that contain 3-5 stages each. Each stage is essentially a song that must be played through to unlock the next one in line. Each album has its own unique theme, created by their respective musical and graphical artists. The music on offer is courtesy of I Am Robot And Proud, Jim Guthrie, Beck and deadmau5, accompanied by artwork from Capy, Superbrothers, Colin Mancer, Pixeljam and Pyramid Attack, all of which bring their unique flavours and styles to make each and every level feel like its own living world. Luscious hills and forests, bustling dystopian-style mega-corporations, an asteroid field and a post-apocalytpic cityscape are but a few of the tremendous levels on offer, each of which provide their own experience, meaning the game’s campaign never runs out of steam. You may even find yourself replaying levels you’ve already beaten, purely because they’re an absolute joy to play through.
Once the campaign has been completed you’ll open up Death Mode, a super-hard challenge mode to even further the game’s replay value. Sadly, this makes trophy hunting incredibly hard, as half of the game’s trophes are tied to beating each stage’s Death Mode variant. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it means only the most dedicated of gamers will be obtaining these elusive rewards. Also, you’ll be able to use assets unlocked in the campaign to create your own levels, and here is where the true genius of Sound Shapes lies: its community.
With the game’s incredibly easy to use level editor, it’s a blast to create and share your own stages with your own beats, obstacles and unique feel. You can build upon one of the stages found in the campaign, or go wildly creative and use assets from multiple stages. The main editing screen is displayed similarly to a sheet of music; you place notes onto here and build your level around them, adding your own enemies, traps, scenery and colour schemes as you go. Sound Shapes, like LittleBigPlanet or ModNation Racers, really is as big as your imagination allows, and the more you play with the editor, the better you’ll get at constructing your own works.
This is where the community of Sound Shapes truly shines. Much like an online social network, the game allows you to post and publish your levels into the game’s already huge collection of user levels. If a person likes your level (or if you like someone else’s) they can choose to ‘follow’ you, meaning they’ll be notified when you create a new level. The same applies if you are following others, of course. If your level is well received, it may be posted on the game’s Top Picks page which could propel your level into fan stardom.
Sound Shapes does harbour a couple of problems, however. As the screens do not scroll, transitions between them are sometimes choppy which momentarily breaks the flow of the gorgeous music. Also, music will sometimes skip or be drowned out by other notes depending on how many objects are on the screen, so you can’t go completely mental with items in the editor. Nevertheless, these issues do nothing to take away from the game’s sheer brilliance.
Sound Shapes succeeds in almost every way. As a game, it’s a challenging and fun side-scrolling adventure with tight controls and smart mechanics. As a community, it is vast and addictive with its level building tools. Mostly, though, the game is a musical experience like no other. If you have an appreciation for indie gaming, great music or both, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth with this mindblowing title.
Sound Shapes was reviewed on PS Vita.
Sound Shapes is one of those indie titles that transcends its roots to become something truly amazing. Whether that be because of the big names involved or the sheer publishing power of Sony, Sound Shapes is nevertheless a heartfelt effort at creating something truly unique.